Saeed asked to withdraw ‘COVID-19 Support Bill’, resubmit after revision

Speaker of Parliament, former President Mohamed Nasheed. (Photo/People's Majlis)

Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed, on Tuesday, asked People’s National Congress (PNC) deputy leader Mohamed Saeed to withdraw his bill – designed to accommodate emergency support to those financially hit by the COVID-19 outbreak – as it contained provisions which affected the treasury, and resubmit it following revisions.

Maavashu MP Saeed submitted the bill, titled ‘COVID-19 Support Bill’, citing that the outbreak was heightening the risk of the collapse of businesses and leaving thousands of families in dire circumstances.

The bill accommodates for the release of proceeds from the pension fund to entitled parties, suspend evictions, and ascertain job security to the thousands of resort works who have been laid off.

It also accommodates for the establishment of a payment schedule for tourism lease rent, deferment of student loans, concessions to small and medium enterprises in filing taxes, and concessions to farmers and fishermen.

At the virtual parliamentary sitting on Tuesday morning, Speaker Nasheed said the bill had provisions which would affect the income of the State as well as the budget.

The Standing Orders of the Parliament dictates that only the government may submit legislature which have an impact on monetary or fiscal policy.

Nasheed asked that Saeed therefore revise his bill and resubmit it.

He said he would hold the first reading of the bill then.

He also suggested that if Saeed found he did not need to revise the bill, he may submit it to the President’s office.

Speaker of Parliament, former President Mohamed Nasheed. (Photo/People's Majlis)

“However, the honorable parliamentarian does not belong to the political party of the President. Therefore, the bills submitted here by the President or the government must be submitted through a member of the ruling political party. Therefore, I’ll say there’s an obstacle to the honorable parliamentarian submitting the bill,” said Nasheed.

In response, Saeed said that the crisis which Maldives faced now was unprecedented, and therefore was a special circumstance which did not fall within the circumstances referred to on the Parliament’s Standing Orders.

“Therefore, since this will not have a direct impact on the treasury, I note that asking that asking that the money stored within the State powers be released to the rightful owners does not, in any way, fall within the spirit of the said provision,” said Saeed.

He said the pension fund held the money of many Maldivian people, and that his bill was designed to accommodate concessions to farmers, fishermen and professionals from other sectors without a direct impact on the State budget.

“I therefore ask the Speaker that, even though I may not belong to the ruling party, this bill be accepted into the Parliament and at least discussed in light of the current circumstances,” said Saeed.

Maavashu MP Mohamed Saeed. (Photo/People's Majlis)

Nasheed responded that he too wished to accept the bill into the Parliament and discuss it, but that he could not pretend the bill did not have provisions which would have an impact on the treasury.

“There’s no doubt in any of our minds that these are unprecedented circumstances we are facing. But one of the principles I hold dearest is rule of law must be upheld, especially during unprecedented circumstances,” he said.

Nasheed said he was making the decision in light of advice of the secretariat as well as committees.

Nasheed said that 12 parliamentary committees were engaged in reviewing measures implemented by the government to mitigate the adverse effects of measures implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19.

10 of the committees had completed their reviews and compiled reports which had over 1,500pages and contained more than 300 findings and more than 300 recommendations.

Nasheed repeated that he wished for the Parliament to debate on Saeed’s bill, and that it was the reason why he was asking him to revise it.

“I have suggested to the honorable member to cut and refine it. It doesn’t fit well right now,” he said.

Nasheed said he would discuss the bill with parliamentary group leaders and do everything he would to have it presented to the parliamentary floor.

“But I cannot do so unless it is in line with the Standing Orders,” he said.